Facebook: Transparency in Corporate Public Relations

I had a paper to write for business ethics. My topic of choose was the Facebook scandal pertaining to Google’s Social Circle.

Miguel Helft’s, May 13, 2011, New York Times article “Facebook, Foe of Anonymity, Is Forced to Reveal a Secret” discusses Facebook’s PR smear campaign against Google’s Social Circle. As a rule, Facebook prides itself in transparency. “Having two identities for your self is an example of lack of integrity,” Facebook CEO Mark Zukerberg has been quoted. However, Helft’s article debunks Zukerberg’s statement by providing testimony from sources at Facebook’s PR firm, Burson-Marsteller, that Facebook anonymously planted critical articles about Google’s Social Circle.  Shortly after this incident, experts from various aspects of the industry came forward in agreement that Facebook made a mistake by remaining anonymous. “It’s just unacceptable,” said Tom Goldstein, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “Journalists should announce who they are and people who deal with journalists should announce who they are and where they are coming from.” David Kirkpatrick author of “The Facebook Effect, also points out, “Doing this anonymously is an obvious contradiction of Facebook’s oft-stated values.” The main issue is not that Facebook engaged in a smear campaign but that they did so anonymously through the PR firm. Chief executive of the Public Relations Society of America Rosanna M. Fiske says, “In the essence of the public relations code of ethics 101, that’s a no-no.”

Facebook defends their actions by releasing a statement pertaining to Google’s use of third party information. However, Helft reveals in his article that users of Google services opt-in by linking their Google Accounts to the service Social Circle searches. So even in the statement Facebook issued they lack transparency.

Evident throughout the article is Facebook’s inability to cope with Google playing in the social game. Arguably, Facebook is losing ground and using slimy tactics to try and gain an edge. Instead of using this strategy they should engage Google to rekindle their previous partnership. Furthermore, I disagree with Facebook’s directive to their PR firm for anonymity in these and other issues stated, specifically Facebook’s privacy issues.

It is hypocritical that Facebook accuses Google of using third party information when Facebook as a company has been controversial in their own use of members’ private information.  I believe in the most ethical behavior when dealing with matters of the public arena and individual privacy. If I were Facebook in this matter I would have addressed this issue in serious and transparent manner and admitted to my wrong doing through apologetic public statement. If I were Facebook in this situation, I would have created a media campaign highlighting the detrimental issues of Google’s new service and educated users about how their personal and private information would be used. This would garner respect and loyalty with the current customer base and help gain new members.

In conclusion, I find ethical behavior creates customer loyalty and builds brand trust.  Practicing high ethical standards and transparency as rule will ensure repeat business and build brand loyalty. It would be wise for Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg to follow his own advice, “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

Eldon, Eric. Facebook’s Failed Privacy PR Campaign Against Google: An Industry Practice, Poorly Done. 12 May 2011. 26 May 2011


Helft, Miguel. Facebook, Foe of Anonymity, Is Forced to Explain a Secret. 13 May 2011. 26 May 2011 <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/14/technology/14facebook.html&gt;.




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